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Reform Magazine | December 16, 2017

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Faith in action: Sister Elizabeth Pio

elizabeth_pioSister Elizabeth Pio, nun at the Sisters of Bethany convent in Southsea, Portsmouth

The fact that I’m a Christian is down to sheer curiosity. About 10 years ago I just got curious as to why people went to church and read the Bible. I bought a children’s one, because I liked the pictures. I couldn’t stop reading it. I finished it in a week.

I had a career in marketing, travelling all around the world, my own flat, car, lots of money, no problems. I loved it. At that moment everything changed. It had been my dream job, but I lost interest. I gave up everything: my wage, my flat, my friends and moved in with my parents, who were horrified.

For three years I helped out at my parish church. Becoming a nun was always at the back of my mind during that time. But I thought: “You must be joking God.” I came here for a weekend and sensed that this was what He wanted me to do, even though I had my reservations.

Our vows of chastity, poverty and obedience can be tricky. For different people different things are hard. Some find obedience harder. Chastity hasn’t been particularly difficult for me, though I still like to look at a good-looking man. I like a nice backside. But poverty… that’s been the hard one for me.

I’m just going on holiday to my parents’ home and I’m really looking forward to going to Starbucks and having a Gingerbread Latte, and walking my dog Lil. It’s a ritual for me. I wish we had a cappuccino maker at the convent.

Here, our day starts at 5.45am in the chapel. Between 6-7am is an hour’s meditation. We have our first morning prayer at 7am and then mass and then after that, breakfast. Then we have time for work. At 9.15am we have Terce which is a short worship service. We work until 10.30am, have a coffee break and carry on working until 12. Then we have midday prayer in the chapel and then dinner. At 4pm we get some exercise and have a bit of Bible study. Then we have a cup of tea and a piece of cake if it’s a special time. At 5pm it’s Vespers. We have supper at 6.30pm. Compline is at 8pm and we tend to go to bed at 8.30 or 9pm.

Prayer is our main work. We are asked to pray for loads of people so we do that privately and in the chapel. It’s not always silent, but there are silent periods here. We view life being a constant prayer with peace and silence within yourself.

We are trying to bring God where people are, and we thought that Twitter is where people are, so I started tweeting. It’s easier than Facebook. I thought, “Let’s give this a go and see what happens.” The tweets are about anything and everything: football, cars, international affairs,
TV programmes.

I’m not trying to convert people, but I hope to bring people closer to God. There are lots of people on Twitter who are not religious. I also hope to get the point across that nuns are human beings and dispel illusions about nuns. I’d like people to see that religious people are “life people” – not stuck up, thinking that they are better than everybody else, or that other people are going to hell.

We’ve got more than 2,000 followers now. First we were on the local TV news and we instantly went from 90 followers to over 1,000. I thought, “Gosh!” Then Songs of Praise came here. It was so funny. We had quiet groups on either side of the room where we were filming, and we were laughing – I’m sure we disturbed them.

After Songs of Praise was broadcast it went ballistic. We’ve had a 50 per cent increase in followers because of that. It’s been so, so good.
We had one person who tweeted something sexually explicit, so I had to block him. But mostly people are interested in what we do and what we have to say.

We’re very happy with it. Revd Mother tweets as well. Some of the other sisters think up things. I encourage them to give me ideas. They don’t understand it because of their age, but they don’t disapprove. They recognise it is a ministry.

It’s going well. The comments that we get back are really encouraging. “I’m not religious, but you have made me want to find out more.” “I’m inspired by what you say.” That’s brilliant. If I died now I would be really happy with that.

Being here has changed my idea of what success is. Before, success for me was becoming managing director of a company, having a lovely car and a personal parking space. Success for me now means doing what’s right in God’s eyes. I don’t always get it right, but it’s a big challenge.

Sister Elizabeth Pio tweets under the name
 @bethanysister. She was talking to Hazel Southam, a freelance journalist specialising in religious affairs

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This article was published in the February 2013 edition of  Reform.

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